Sämtliche schriften und briefe series VI volume 4
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
Date: 1683 - 1685 (?)
Translated from the Latin
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MIND, BODY AND SOUL
FREE WILL AND NECESSITY
POLITICS, LAW AND ETHICS
LEIBNIZ: ON WHAT IS ABSURD, FALSE, AND PROBLEMATIC IN DESCARTES
[A VI 4, p1466]
Descartes says that matter takes on in order all the forms of which it is capable.1
This strikes me as absurd.
Descartes' reasoning is false when he says that we have an idea of the God or the most perfect being because we understand the words "being" and "perfect" and "supremely".2 It will be proved by the same argument [A VI 4, 1467] that we have an idea of the fastest motion or highest number because we understand the words. And yet there is no idea of an impossible thing.
It seems to me that all bodies are only modes, for as there is no argument by which it can be shown that they act and are acted upon, they are nothing other than our sensations. Therefore body is nothing other than the object of sensations; God is the cause of actions that without reason we attribute to bodies. All actions are of God except ours, namely those of minds, therefore the reality of bodies is no different from the reality of dreams except that bodies are in agreement and depend upon a certain rule, and that rule originates from God's will, that is, from a higher intellect. The reason Descartes has fallen into difficulty over the union and mind and body3 is because he considered bodies as substances, but I consider them as modes of the mind, and the reason different minds have harmonious perceptions is because they all communicate with the same Being, namely God. You will say that by the same argument it can be shown that one should not assert that there are minds, because there is no way of proving that there are. On the contrary, I answer that there is a way. For it can be shown a priori that there are many possible ways of perceiving a thing that do not disturb each other, and hence it is necessary that minds exist. But there is a demonstration with regard to bodies. For it is impossible that any reason be contrived - even by an all-knowing individual - which would prove that bodies are substances, from which it follows they are not substances.
1. See Descartes, Principles of Philosophy III.47, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, ed. and trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), I: 258, and also Descartes' letter to Mersenne of 9 January 1639 in Oeuvres de Descartes, eds. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (Paris: Vrin), II: 485.
2. See Descartes' Second Set of Replies, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes II, 115.
3. The union of mind and body is discussed at length in The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, trans. Lisa Shapiro (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007).
© Lloyd Strickland 2016